This is a short story I’ve been working on for a while now. I recommend you save this bit of reading for when you have a bit of tea or coffee, and a little extra time. Comments and criticism are welcome—the more constructive, the better.
I hope you enjoy.
Sonya couldn’t remember when she had gotten the bump on her hand. As far as she could recall, there had never been a time when it wasn’t there. She had always thought it was ugly, though most people were polite enough not to comment on it—at least not in front of her. It was a defect, and it was a part of her.
Lately, however, the bump had become especially unpleasant—ever since her encounter with the Tsar from the country beyond the valley.
Other people in the city of Mir had bumps too. Some people’s bumps seemed bigger than others; some tried to cover theirs up, others bragged about their bumps; still others seemed completely unaware that bumps might be a problem. If you asked someone about his bump, he would likely explain to you why it was not as bad as that of his neighbour, but that in any case there was not much that could be done about it.
But Sonya had a feeling that there was something that could be done.
She stood on the sidewalk downtown, as cars passed noisily in the street in front of her. There was a breeze in the air, and the golden seal that hung on the chain around her neck jingled against the metal zipper of her jacket. She had worn the shiny token ever since she met the Tsar.
She waited to cross at the intersection of Main Street and Guerison Row. Rumour had it that this was the place to come if you wanted to get rid of bumps, that there were experts here with the instruments and skills required to remove them.
Across the street the metal edges and pristine glass faces of a building gleamed in the sunlight. Shiny blue trim and smooth letters read Nova Healing Centre.
The signal lights changed and Sonya crossed the street toward the building. She walked up the wide cement walkway and through a pair of sliding glass doors that opened before her. The lobby was tall and spacious with a curved reception desk. To her left she could see a gym full of people exercising on modern equipment, and beyond the desk, behind more windows, a long pool with people swimming laps.
An attractive woman greeted Sonya at the desk. Her name tag said Mandy. “Hello. How can I help you?”
“I heard that I might be able to get rid of a bump here,” said Sonya.
“Yes, certainly!” the receptionist said, turning to her computer monitor. “In fact, I think Jake can see you for a pre-screening right away. Just a minute, please.” Mandy tapped on her keyboard, then picked up a telephone.
Sonya had a good feeling about this place; everything seemed clean and professional. She felt that someone here would know the right thing to do about her bump.
Mandy told Sonya, “Jake will be right out.” Then a man wearing an argyle sweater over a shirt and tie appeared from the hallway.
“Sonya!” he said. “My name is Jake. Nice to meet you.” She shook his hand and noticed his handsome face and dark, styled hair. “Please, follow me. Let’s sit down and see what we can do for you.”
He led Sonya to the nearest office and she sat in the chair he offered her. He sat at the desk and folded his hands.
“So, Sonya, what can we do for you today?”
“Well, I want to get rid of a bump.”
“A bump,” he said. “What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s here on my hand.” She put her left arm on the desk. The bump protruded from the back of her hand.
“Oh, that’s not so bad!” he said. “I’ve seen much worse.”
“Oh, good! Then I suppose you can remove it.”
“What bothers you about it?” Jake asked.
“It makes life quite difficult at times,” she explained. “It’s hard to use my hand. It’s very ugly to look at, and it can be quite painful.”
“You know you really shouldn’t worry about what other people say,” said Jake. “Most people have a bump here or there. I have a little one on my arm, but I hardly ever notice it.”
“But I thought this was supposed to be a healing centre.”
“It is!” he said, sitting up in his chair. “We have all the equipment and programs you need to be a healthier person.”
“But don’t you remove bumps here?”
“Well, we can remove them, but it’s a very invasive and painful procedure.” He swivelled in his chair and pointed to the shelf behind him: “That’s the instrument that needs to be used for a bump excision.” On the shelf stood upright in its holder what looked like a dagger or a small sword. “That blade is for removing bumps.” Sonya thought the thing looked dangerous, but also beautiful and skillfully crafted.
She hesitated for a moment, then replied, “Please, I’d like to have mine removed.”
“Sonya, you really need to stop being so hard on yourself! I think we have just the class for you. It’s designed to boost self-esteem and coordination!”
“But—” Sonya began.
“Why don’t I take you on a tour of the centre? You’ll be impressed! I’ll tell Mandy up front to book your free consultation. How about it?”
Sonya paused, then standing up said, “I’m sorry. I need to go.” She shook Jake’s hand. “Thank you for your time.”
Sonya found herself back on the sidewalk outside the Nova Healing Centre. Nova was a beautiful building, and the people there seemed very healthy, but she wondered why Jake was so hesitant to address her real problem: the bump on her hand. “Maybe someone else here can help me,” she thought, continuing down Guerison Row.
Next to the Nova Centre stood a dark structure, made of rough limestone. One central square tower loomed imposingly over the surrounding lot, buttressed by two smaller columns. Outside the surrounding cast iron fence, near the gate, a brown sign with movable white letters read, The Official Assembly of Healing: Bumps Removed Here.
Sonya came to the iron gate, which she found unlocked. The hinges whined as she pushed open the door, walking onto the stone-paved path and up concrete steps to the red wooden doors set in a pointed arch. The entrance was open a crack so she went in; the heavy doors announced her arrival with a groan.
“Hello, dear!” A woman with long, wavy white hair looked up from her work at a desk in the small, dimly-lit foyer. “Welcome to the house of healing,” she said, rising from her chair and offering her hand. “My name is Marjorie.”
“I’m Sonya,” she said, shaking the woman’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Would you like some tea or coffee?” Marjorie asked, fetching a cup and a saucer from a cupboard behind her. She was wearing a red jacket over a patterned blouse.
“Oh! Why, thank you,” said Sonya. “Tea sounds nice.”
“Please, make yourself comfortable,” said the lady in red, indicating a space to Sonya’s right where two antique chairs and a small coffee table were arranged. Sonya sat, and the woman joined her, bringing milk, sugar, hot water, and everything else Sonya could have needed for her tea, along with a plate of peanut butter cookies.
“Thank you, this is lovely!” said Sonya.
“You’re welcome,” said Marjorie, her smile wrinkling her face. She folded her hands in her lap and leaned forward. “Sonya, is this your first visit here?”
“Yes, it is,” Sonya nodded.
“Mmm, then we’ll have to make a point to get you acquainted with our history and doctrinal statement,” Marjorie said.
Sonya hoped she wouldn’t have to start with history or doctrine today, but she was enjoying her tea and her cookie, and felt very comfortable with Marjorie’s genuine and endearing personality.
“So what brings you to us today?” asked Marjorie.
“I’m looking for someone who can remove a bump,” replied Sonya.
“Oh,” said Marjorie. Sonya thought that some of the warmth faded from the woman’s face. “What kind of bump?” she asked.
“It’s on my hand,” said Sonya, extending her left arm; Marjorie backed away as she did so, and the creases previously drawn by her smile now twisted into something like a grimace.
“Oh my,” said Marjorie. Sonya waited for some explanation of the woman’s sudden unease. “I never get used to dealing with these issues.”
“What can I do about it?” asked Sonya.
Marjorie rose from her chair, shaking her head. “Bumps are a shameful disease, and they’re overrunning our society.” She walked back to her desk and opened a wooden drawer. “People think that they’re harmless, so they let themselves waste away with the infection.” She turned back toward Sonya, gripping something in her hand. Her tone of voice became more aggressive. “It’s a mercy that there are some of us left who understand these things and can rid people of such sickness!”
“Well, you see, I don’t like it much either,” Sonya said with a tremor in her voice. As Marjorie approached, Sonya recognized the thing in her hand. It was a small sword like the one on the shelf at the Nova Centre except that, strangely, the blade had been wrapped up in cloth tape.
Without warning, Marjorie slapped the flat edge of the blade down on Sonya’s hand. Sonya cried out in pain and withdrew her arm. “What are you doing?”
“Hold still!” commanded Marjorie before taking another swing and smacking Sonya on her left arm below the shoulder.
The girl curled up to try to defend against the blows. “Stop!” she cried as the angry woman struck her again.
“Do you think that you can just get rid of bumps? Do you think you can shrug them off—that it only takes a pin prick?”
Sonya screamed as she tried to block a blow to her head.
“Maybe now you’ll think twice about the way you’re living your life!”
Sonya managed to deflect another swipe of the blade that Marjorie was using as a club. She sprung out of the chair where she was nearly cornered, pushing the old woman aside as she bolted for the door. She kept running, out the door, down the steps, until she was outside the gate and back on the sidewalk. Part of her wanted to run all the way back home, but a group of people had gathered outside the Nova Centre and she decided that she didn’t want to be seen crying, so she dashed left, further down Guerison Row.
She didn’t run far, though. She looked back and saw that no one pursued her. Next she couldn’t see much of anything as tears welled up in her eyes and began to pour down her cheeks. She stood there sobbing, bruised from the mad woman’s attack, and losing hope that she would ever get rid of the bump on her hand.
Her face strained with sorrow as she reached up to her necklace and clasped the gold seal. It hadn’t been long since she had met the Tsar from the country beyond the valley. She had heard people’s opinions about that place, and about him. Some said that he was a scoundrel, others that he lived too far away to be of any concern. But when she spoke with him face to face she knew that he was good—so good that she was embarrassed. Her bump felt more painful and ugly than ever then.
He told her that he was coming to be Tsar in Mir. It was hard for Sonya to imagine what that would be like, but she knew that any place where this man was ruler would be a wonderful place to live. He gave her his seal, stamped on a gold medallion, and told her that he wanted her to play the violin in his royal orchestra when he returned. Sonya thought that sounded delightful.
But there was no way that she would be a decent violin player with the bump on her hand. She wanted more than anything to serve this remarkable man.
“But how can I? How can I if no one can explain to me how to deal with the thing that’s holding me back—this horrible bump!” Sonya cried.
“It looks like the job’s already part way done.”
Sonya was startled from her tears by a man’s voice. Wiping her eyes, she saw he was standing just a few paces off of the sidewalk.
“Sorry for intruding, but I was out here doing some pruning and couldn’t help noticing that you were a little upset,” said the man. He put a small pair of pruning shears in his back pocket, then removed his yellow work gloves.
“I’m sorry,” said Sonya, embarrassed. “I should be going.” She turned back toward the street crossing.
“No need to be sorry,” said the man. “A lot of folks end up down here with bumps. A lot of them leave with them too.”
“I’m Tom,” said the man, casually tucking the gloves into his other pocket. He wore a plaid shirt and jeans.
“You know about bumps?” Sonya sniffed as she dried her tears.
“Everyone’s got to deal with them sooner or later. Hopefully sooner,” he said with a grin that wrinkled the corners of his eyes. Sonya studied him for a moment. His dark hair was combed across the top of his head. His friendly yet assertive demeanour made her think that he must be a father. Across the lawn behind him was a quaint yellow house that hadn’t drawn Sonya’s attention from the street. Hanging from the railing of the front porch was a small sign that read Help with bumps.
“Can you help me?” asked Sonya.
“Why don’t you come sit out front for a minute,” Tom said. Sonya followed him to the porch where two white wicket chairs and a little wooden table faced out onto the street. They sat down together.
“I didn’t get your name,” said Tom.
“Oh, it’s Sonya.”
“Sonya,” Tom repeated, gazing out onto the lawn, which was bordered on each side by neatly-kept shrubs and trees, and featured a flower garden closer to the house. “It’s been a beautiful spring, Sonya,” he said. “Warm, with just enough rain to take care of the farmers’ crops, I reckon.”
Sonya nodded. “You know about farming?”
“I grew up on a farm,” said Tom. “Learned lots from my dad about what’s needed for growing things. For the past seventeen years we’ve been living in town, though—my wife and kids and I. So now most of my farming,” he emphasized the word with a smile, “happens in the front yard here, and in the garden out back.”
“How come you left the farm?” asked Sonya.
“Well...” Tom began pensively, then said with a chuckle, “There were a few reasons. But one was that we could see this city growing, and changing, and we knew that there would be a lot of people here who would need help.”
“With all kinds of things,” replied Tom. “But, yeah, with the Assembly building next door and that new Nova Centre that went up a few years back, there have been a lot of people wandering down here hoping to get rid of a bump.”
“And you help them,” Sonya said, expecting, hoping, knowing that she was in that same category of searching people.
“Sometimes I can’t do anything,” he said.
“Like the other places here,” Sonya said, feeling anger flame up suddenly inside her. “Guerison Row has been nothing but a waste of time.”
Tom did not seem at all bothered by her biting comment. “I noticed your medallion,” he said, looking at her. Sonya was surprised that he would mention it. “So, you’ve met the Tsar from across the valley.”
“Yes,” said Sonya. “You... know about him?”
“Do you trust him?” Tom asked, simply.
Sonya was caught off guard by the question, but immediately recalled the kingly face: the presence that was so demanding, yet comforting at the same time.
“Yes,” she answered. “I do.”
“I thought so. A pretty fair guess, I reckoned, when I saw you had his seal. It’s powerful, you know. It’s as good as a guarantee that you’ll soon be bump free.” As he was saying this, Tom leaned forward in his chair, and reached to grab something from behind him. At first Sonya thought that he was just bothered by one of the tools that he had stored in his pocket, and that he would remove it and set it aside. But actually he had taken something from a leather sheath fastened to his belt, and as he brought his hand around, the thing flashed in the sunlight. It was the same type of small sword that Sonya had seen before.
“You have one too!” exclaimed Sonya.
“Oh, yeah,” Tom said, turning the shiny item in his hand. “It’s a beauty, but not hard to come by. Used for centuries by all kinds of people, you know, and surprisingly poorly by some, even up until now.”
Sonya assumed that if Tom knew how poorly the thing could be used that he must also know how it should be used well. But surely Jake and Marjorie also thought that they were using the blade properly, though their efforts did nothing to help Sonya. Would Tom be the same? She didn’t want to be hurt; she didn’t want to be disappointed again.
“Do you want me to show you how to take care of that bump?” Tom asked, holding his hand out to her.
Once again Sonya became aware of the bump on the back of her left hand. She felt it with her good hand as they both rested in her lap. The bump was so familiar, yet now so undesirable. It really was shameful, like Marjorie said. If only she could be free of it...
“You said this seal means I’m as good as bump free,” said Sonya, making up her mind.
Tom nodded. “That’s right.”
“You know the Tsar.” She could sense this difference in him. “And I trust him,” she said, extending her left arm. “So... I trust you.”
Tom smiled and took her hand gently in his big, rough farmer’s hand. Then he brought up the special blade.
“Is it painful?” Sonya asked.
“Yes,” answered Tom. “At first. But not as painful as a life lived with this bump.”
“You’re right. I know,” said Sonya.
“May I?” asked Tom.
Sonya’s hand tightened in his grasp as she steeled herself. “Do it. Please.”
With a decisive motion, Tom pushed the blade. Fire—the sharp pain was like a flame beneath her skin. Sonya gasped and let out a cry, but held her hand in the searing heat. Her eyes were shut tight and her hand gripped tightly around Tom’s as he finished the cut. She heard a thump on the deck beneath her chair and opened her eyes. Some dark mass lay steaming on the wood planks, hissing as it grew smaller and smaller, burning or evaporating into the air. Then Sonya flung up her left hand, expecting to see some terrible wound. She was confused, wondering if she was looking at the wrong hand. But no, it was her left hand, and all that was left of the bump was a small scar where its edges used to be. She wiggled her fingers and felt them move freely and more easily than any time she could remember. She rubbed the back of her hand and felt it smooth, just like her good hand; except now they were both good!
“How does it feel?” asked Tom.
“It’s amazing,” said Sonya. “I forgot how good it is to have two normal hands!” For a few moments she revelled in her new found freedom and health; then, turning to Tom she said, “Thank you! I’m sure I’ll be able to learn to play the violin now!”
“Is that what he asked you to do? Good!”
“Tom,” Sonya asked, “did he give you something to do as well? And how did you learn to help people with bumps?”
Tom went on to tell Sonya what unique task the Tsar had asked him to do, and to explain a little bit about bump removal. In fact, Tom gave her the special blade that he had used, assuring her, as he had mentioned before, that “thankfully these aren’t hard to come by.” He told her that she would probably notice more bumps now that this big one was gone, and that she would have to be brave enough to deal with them too. “But,” he said, “the more bumps you remove, and the sooner you get them off, the easier it will be, and the better you will be able to help others who want to get rid of their bumps. And always remember,” said Tom...
“You bear his seal.”